BURLESON, TX — Don Grayson did not grow up around here, but folks are starting to recognize his face and the big, blue Chevrolet pickup truck he uses to make monthly deliveries of nearly 1,000 pounds of food to the food pantries at Harvest House in Burleson and Operation Blessing in Cleburne. When Don unloads, he usually drops off other folks’ donations of extra food or clothes added to his gift. People who know him are always glad to help as he collects staples for local families in crisis.
Don and his wife, Sandra, moved to Joshua only 12 years ago. When he retired from the roads in 2004, Don’s years as a long-haul truck driver had taken their toll. It took him some time to recuperate. He tended to his gun collection, to his wife, daughter and grandson — and to his own health, damaged by years of fast food and truck-stop grease. Lap band surgery helped him lose 150 pounds; good medical counsel taught him to manage the diabetes; and three years ago, he was led to join Charity Lutheran Church, where he enjoys the fellowship of those who love their fellow man and the guidance of Pastor Kent Heimbigner.
One Sunday, the subject of poverty and hunger came up. “The very next day, our neighbors gave us a 22-pound turkey,” Don remembered with a laugh. “I’m not fond of turkey, so I called Pastor Heimbigner. He said, ‘Yes, we have a family in dire straits.’ So, I gave him the turkey for that family.” Don’s next errand was to go grocery shopping for his family. “As I walked through the store my conscience started talking to me, Wow, you did a big thing, didn’t you, giving away a free turkey? By the time that was done and I’d loaded up my car, I went back into the store and spent $99 for that family, and delivered those groceries right away to Pastor.
“I found out later the family was very happy, and the adults were crying when Pastor delivered the food, and it made me feel good to have helped. I started talking to Pastor, and started talking in church about it, standing up and giving a little spiel about it,” Don said. “I really believe this: if everybody in this community would give one bag of non-perishable foods and one can of food every week, I don’t think there would be anybody hungry. Harvest House, and whoever else is doing this, would be overflowing with food. We can feed the people ourselves with no outside help if the people in the community would buy one can of food every time they went to the grocery store. How much would you spend — $1?”
Don’s sympathies are rooted not just in his grocery-store epiphany. There were a few times in his life when Don found it hard to provide for his wife, three daughters and two sons, who are now grown. “I worked hard and was away from home a lot trying to feed them. We always had decent houses, and lived where there were good schools,” said Don, a veteran of three tours in Vietnam. “I spent 12 years in the infantry — what did I know how to do? By the time I got out of the Army and out of the hospital, my uncle put me in a truck. I followed the trucking business, and drove all of the lower 48 states and all of Canada. I provided for us, but of course you lose a lot when you do that. People don’t understand; long-haul drivers aren’t there for graduations, or some holidays. But no matter what, I was home for Christmas. That’s family time and needs to be.”
Now Don is always available for his wife, his daughter and grandson and his neighbors. When he buys food for needy people, he buys basic staples they can stretch. He has found good rates in stores like Restaurant Depot in Fort Worth, City Market and Walmart in Burleson. Policemen are beginning to call on Don for the Walmart gift cards he keeps on hand for when they get a spousal abuse call and discover the family’s cupboards are bare and the children are hungry. Once he received a donation from a church giving from its own tithes. “I got a good load of clothing from a thrift store in Granbury that was getting rid of it all,” said Don, who refers to his wife as the “Thrift Store Kid.” “I don’t think as many people know about their thrift store as they should.”
To help Operation Blessing and Harvest House prepare, Don really puts out a lot of effort in the holiday season when families get together. “The little kids talk to their little friends, ‘Boy we had this big ol’ turkey, and we had that …’ and the other little kid’s sitting there thinking, ‘Boy, we didn’t have anything.’ I do what I can with what the Lord provides. And I just work harder at it on the holidays because it’s such a special time.
“But they have to eat the rest of the year, too. There are not a lot of jobs out there for people to have. I have seen quite a few women with kids coming in to the Harvest House, filling out paperwork asking for assistance, and there’s no man around. Could be he’s out looking for work, or it could be she’s a single mom trying to make ends meet. We certainly want to help them,” Don said. “This is not going to stop. There have been poor from the time the Egyptians dug their first irrigation ditch. They’ll be with us when Christ comes back again. So we also need to be there with them, helping them along the way. I don’t care who they are; they’re still your brother and sister in Christ.”
In response to Don’s leadership, Pastor Heimbigner named him to the Charity Lutheran Church council and put him in charge of the food ministry. The elders help Don immensely, and often the ministry receives donations to add to the year-round food distribution constantly funded by Don and Sandra’s fixed budget. “We try in our humble way, and we’re able to give what’s necessary. I think we get paid back,” Don shared. “When we get into a little trouble, get a little tight, we just ask in prayer and turn it over to the Lord, and in some way it comes in the door, both here at home and at church.” Don may have retired from long-haul trucking, but what he hauls around Burleson in his pickup definitely goes a long way.
Written by Melissa Rawlins